Billboard was there to soak up the stories, the news and the analysis. Here’s five key takeaways from the 2017 edition.
Asian indies on the rise. The good news, according to Merlin CEO Charles Caldas, is that the digital revolution is driving significant growth across a slew of Asian markets, from Singapore to Malaysia, the Philippines and pretty much anywhere streaming services are available. The bad news is, well, it’s just not that bad. “We’re seeing an increase in the value of local markets which is exciting, but also a growing global market. It's not going to stop,” Caldas said during his Sept. 12 presentation. Caldas implored indies to understand and harness the digital space. “The most successful labels in our world are the ones who build a strategy around all these platforms,” he noted. A survey of the digital rights agency’s members found 85% of respondents said they were optimistic for the future, noted Caldas. “The trends for this region are good.”
India, the sleeping music giant. India is an intriguing marketplace. The world’s biggest democracy with a billion-plus population, India’s English-speaking population is estimated at 125 million, second only to the United States. Its recorded music market, though, has been derailed by piracy and low levels of personal income. But as the country shifts to consumption models (thanks in part to a change in data pricing), many execs are brimming with enthusiasm. Panelists on the “streaming in India” panel noted India’s population is a young one, with 50% of consumers below the age of 30. "We're technically the youngest nation in the world," explains Arjun Sankalia, director of international music and publishing at Sony Music Entertainment India. Mobile is the primary device, and about a dozen streaming music and video services currently operate in what is emerging as a video-hungry market.
Indian consumers own about 300 million debit cards and 30 million credit cards, and remarkably just 7% of all that plastic has been used on transactions other than drawing cash. “We need to convince young people to transact digitally,” said Vinit Thakkar, senior VP, India for UMG. “It's an extremely nascent business. We haven't scratched the surface when it comes to India.”
Boom times. “What happens when tomorrow is bigger than today is a question we haven't had to think about for 15 years.” It’s a nice problem to have to ponder and it’s one Spotify’s Will Page dropped on the audience during his Sept. 11 keynote. “I can't see a cloud on the horizon for Asia Pacific. It's booming,” he said. Page, with his arsenal of diagrams and data, predicted revenue is “set to explode” in the region. The British exec also shared a country, regional and platform breakdown and presented a handful of border-crossing artist case studies, including the indie artist Lauv who has 16 million listeners on Spotify (he’s the 71st most popular artist on the platform) and counts Jakarta as his No. 1 city. Lauv "could be the Chance the Rapper story of 2017," enthused Page.
Enter the “golden age.” When Lyor Cohen talks, listen up. The legendary label exec, entrepreneur and now global head of music at YouTube is feeling the glow of optimism. “There’s so much opportunity between advertising and subscription. This business is entering a golden age,” he said during his Sept. 12 keynote. “I think the golden age doesn’t get realized until we get the impresarios to return and roam and create boutiques. We’re entering the golden age but we need some impresarios back. We need more diversity and the ability to source talent and bring them to market. That would be a really great thing for all of us. But I’m incredibly bullish but I’ve only seen happy people...over the last couple of days. I’m seeing a real bounce in the market. And there’s true optimism." Cohen also gave an update on the merger of the tech platform’s streaming players, Google Play Music and YouTube Red. “Building a subscription business is really hard. Building two is multiplying it. So the fact that that effort is being combined should be a real green light for everybody to recognize how serious this company is. The process is going really, really great.” The previous day, Cohen participated in a mentoring session with rising Aussie pop star Tom Jay Williams. Cohen opened up on what makes him tick. "Part of my purpose is to break artists,” he admitted. But he stays “numb” when things don’t work out as planned. “You really have to endure the pain,” he said of failure. And always look for the “mutant mistake.”
BMG is back. Hartwig Masuch looked particularly relaxed for his keynote. And why not. His company BMG has been on a tear since it emerged out of the ashes of the Sony BMG JV. Masuch revealed his company had posted 17% growth in the years from 2013-2016 and its tracking at 28% gains year-on-year. In the nine years since its rebirth, BMG has made more than 100 acquisitions. Masuch described Spotify as a "gift from heaven" that supplied a "road map" for the industry which 10 years ago at launch was “dismissed by the industry.” Asia, he explained, was one of the “hottest areas of the business” with Asia Pacific becoming a “big focus” for the company. The German exec also had some sage advice for other labels looking at their rosters. After blasting 300,000 copies of Rick Astley’s latest album 50 in the U.K. alone, and enjoying hits with Robbie Williams, Roger Waters, Janet Jackson and many others, he opined: “You shouldn't underestimate the staying power of great artists.”